And She Will Still Be Gone

November 11, 2010

“There is a gap,” I say, “A gap between what I believe my mom left behind and what I believe I add to the world.”

I’m trying to explain to my therapist the core of the sense of dissatisfaction I always feel with myself. We have been through the story many times in the past year. She knows it.

“She left the world a better place. She left the campsite cleaner than when she found it.”

“She left a mess.” A professional injection of reality. What I pay for.

“But the magnitude of the mess is a measure of that gap. The gap is all of the ‘extra’. Everyone has a mother and they run along a plane, you know. They all start here.”

I make a motion with my hand, drawing a straight, horizontal line in the air like an x-axis. I also can’t help but think at the same time that she herself is a mother. I wonder where she falls on my graph of motherhood.

“But then some rise higher.”

I draw a line rising upward on my imaginary probability plot. I talk with my hands a lot.

“My mom was up here.” I make a plateau. “And it’s this space between here (left hand) and here (right hand above it) that I feel like I’m always measuring myself by.”

“And what makes that space?” she asks.

“The stuff. All the stuff that made her special. The stuff that made her absence so pronounced to everyone.”

I don’t say it out loud, but it’s implied. Who would miss me like that? Who would miss me this long? I can think of no one, a fact that I know is grossly unfair to my partner and to my friends. But it is there, all the same.

“What is the big difference between you and your mother?”

She cared about people. I care about people.
She had work that helped people. I work to help people.
People liked her. People like me.
She had friends. I have friends.
She had children.
I do not.

I kind of refuse to believe this last point has that much value to it, but…

“And so where is the gap?”

“I don’t know. Intellectually, I don’t know. But it’s right there!” More pointing at imaginary things.

“You can do everything to fill that gap, to measure up to something you’ve decided about your mother.”


“Or you can choose to measure yourself against yourself.”


“And you can decide to believe, based upon what you know of her, whether or not she is proud of you. Because you do know.”


“But… she will still be gone. She will always still be gone.”

Longer pause. And I can feel her looking at me, though I’m staring at my shoe. It’s a look of care and concern. It’s the look that says, “Yes, this is my job, but I do really care about you.”

“She will still be gone.”

My mom has been gone for more than 25 years, but it’s like I hear this for the first time. In this particular moment, I hear it in a way unheard before. I feel it in a way I don’t remember feeling before.

She has made her point. Experiences are different each time we experience them. There are things that we will revisit again and again, and they’ll be different each time. One doesn’t replace the other, but adds to it. She describes them as layers, not to be peeled away, but to give depth.

I sit with the tears falling. I pull a tissue from the box on the table. I say that I need to go, that I’m expected at a meeting.

We sit for a few seconds more.

I hand her my check. We say we’ll see each other next week. I drive to work, to the meeting, to the rest of my day.

And she is still gone.

An Extra Hour of Memoir-ies

November 7, 2010

I put the finishing touches (well, the finishing touches until I print it and see what needs fixing) on my “October”, an illustrated memoir I worked on last month after taking Suzy Becker’s class on the subject at the Worcester Art Museum. It is not the project that I left the class hoping to start (as my self-addressed, self-written reminder postcard from the class reminded me when it arrived this week), but it’s a start that I’m happy with. I’ll get up to speed on the other project soon enough.

Lynn wants me to enter it into the adult student show that the WAM holds after each term of classes wraps up. We’ll see how it turns out. If it’s worth the expense of an inexpensive frame, maybe I’ll submit it.

Thanks to Suzy and to WAM for the class. It was a great Sunday – and continued to be a great month.

ordered chaos

October 17, 2010

my desk, Sunday morning

The contents of my desk this morning, though not contained anywhere:

  • Nineteen books
  • Two magazines
  • One book of sheet music
  • Seven journals (five filled, two in progress)
  • Four blank journals (waiting their turn)
  • Five spiral notebooks
  • Two coloring books
  • Three sketch books
  • Three peanut butter jars filled with pencils, pens & a hawk’s feather
  • Four baseballs and two hockey pucks
  • Rocks, a starfish, paperweights, paper clips
  • One digital recorder
  • One digital camera
  • Two Mary Chapin Carpenter CDs
  • One bowl of frosted flakes
  • One mug of coffee

I think about the books alone. There are five for reference; Oxford Pocket American Dictionary, Oxford Pocket American Thesaurus, Wood’s Unabridged Rhyming Dictionary, Merriam-Webster’s Pocket Rhyming Dictionary and a Dictionary of Folksy, Regional and Rural Sayings. (Note how three of the five are “pocket” sized, though only one actually fits into my pocket.)

There are three memoirs, two of these illustrated. There are two on creativity, along with a file folder filled with journal articles on the same subject. There are five works by Adrienne Rich, to be read only in small snippets so as not to be overtaken by the deep complexity of her mind. And there is one – ONE – novel. I keep saying I’m going to improve on this lack of fiction reading. This copy of “The English Patient” that I got for a quarter at the Friends of Worcester Public Library’s bookstore yesterday represents my latest attempt.

I imagine the number of words these books alone contain. I look across the room at an overflowing (though well-categorized, librarian) bookshelf, at a jam-packed book cart, at a couple of titles peeking out of my bag and one on my drafting table. I wonder how high the tower of words might be if they were stacked one on top of another. My own Tower of Babel.

But amazingly, they’re not babel at all. Amazingly, the authors behind each took a rather large stack of words and put them in order, some kind of order to tell some kind of story. It is a talent that I admire. It is a talent that I try to hone in myself. I fear I lack the discipline to ever succeed in ordering enough that they appear bound and resting on my desk. But I still imagine it. One should never give up on dreams.